At a time when Hockey should be looking forward to the year ahead and concentrating on the finalising of the revolutionary Pro-League it appears as if it is instead a time for introspection. Which understandably has many who love the game concerned.
In October 2016 the International Hockey Federation (FIH) announced the appointment of Jason McCracken as their new Chief Executive Officer replacing Kelly Fairweather. Mr McCracken started in the role in February 2017.
A month later in November 2016 at its 45th Congress in Dubai the FIH executive appointed Dr Narinder Batra President. He became the first Indian to be elected President of an Olympic Sport’s international governing body, and his term in office will last four years.
Both appointees had a strong connection to the sport. Dr Batra having played a key role in raising the profile of the game in India and also witnessing the National team climb up the World Rankings and once again become a competitive side on the World stage. He also oversaw the Hockey India League, a crucial component in the development of the game globally.
Jason McCracken had served as an Olympic and World Cup Umpire, FIH Committee Member and Technical Official for over 20-years. His most recent appointment before taking on the CEO role was Technical Delegate of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
As one would expect when there is a change at the top, the new leaders want to make their mark. It appeared that everyone was committed to the new Global Hockey League. There was therefore much excitement in June of this year when the teams that would compete as part of the Pro-League were announced.
However one man that was missing from the FIH when the announcement was made was their Business Development Director, Richard Tattershaw. The official reason for him leaving was his role had become redundant. This raised a few eyebrows with the Pro-League on the horizon, but it was believed this was a re-structure that was obviously required to deliver the event.
In late September a replacement was announced along with a new title for the role, Global Head of Sales. The new recruit took up the position in October, and came to the organisation with a very healthy reputation.
This was a positive appointment as since the announcement of the teams to compete in the Pro-League, India had withdrawn both their men’s and women’s teams. These were then replaced by Spain and Belgium respectively. However with India appearing to have been the main source of sponsorship income in recent years there were fears around the world that the Pro League could not go ahead without them.
Six months after the announcement of the Pro-League, there has still been no announcement of a naming rights sponsor or an airline partner to ferry the teams across the world. Of course had the new Global Head of Sales been able to put those in place in a month and a half he would have truly been a miracle worker!
With no India in the competition Star Sports were expected to give notice that they would no longer televise the competition, as their contract was linked to India and Pakistan participating. With Pakistan playing home games in Scotland and India not part of the League it was understandable that they may look to extricate themselves from the contract, and allegedly after the culmination of the Hockey World League Finals, Star Sports is believed to have given the FIH a year to bring India into the competition or they will indeed terminate their agreement.
With Star Sports having recently paid USD$2.55 billion for IPL media rights over the next five years (2018-2022), Hockey has clearly dropped down the pecking order in terms of importance. The Pro-Kabaddi League proved such a success in its inaugural year that it was announced in 2015 that Star Sports would acquire a 74% stake in the league’s parent company Mashal Sports. So again they are focussed on making that a success. So despite a famous eight-year partnership being signed between Star Sports and the FIH in 2014, and terminated earlier this year, hockey seems no longer to be a priority.
It appears that since June it has been a very bumpy ride for the sport.
The President made comments on his personal Facebook page during the Hockey World League semi finals in London that caused the FIH to distance themselves from their President. They announced on the 19th of June that the situation would be “reviewed internally in line with our governance processes.” It is understood that this review process is still being carried out. There has certainly been no media release advising of the outcome, which one would expect following the media coverage it caused.
The President then ran and recently won the Presidency of the Indian Olympic Association, causing some to question whether he was about to step down from Hockey to focus on lifting India and Indian Olympic sport to glory, just as he had raised the fortunes of the Indian Hockey team when President of Hockey India.
Then came the resignation of David Luckes the Director of Sport at the FIH and the man who had been Acting CEO prior to MCCracken’s appointment. This resignations did come as a surprise as Luckes was a real Hockey man, having represented Great Britain at three Olympic Games and helped with the London 2012 Olympic bid and when the bid was won was in charge of Sport Competition for London Organising Committee. He left the FIH at the end of November. He will take up the position as the head of summer sports and International Federation relations at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in January.
His replacement has just been announced, former England and Great Britain captain Jon Wyatt.
However just as the Hockey World League commenced in India, another Director resigned. This time it was the Director of TV and Broadcast. He will depart the FIH at the end of March 2018.
Despite a united front being shown at the end of the Tournament in India, where the CEO left the door open for India to re-join the Pro-League, as well as other nations, and advising that the much criticised quarter-final format was here to stay, it would appear that all was not as it appeared.
In the past week the CEO has also resigned his position. A position he took up only 11 months ago. It is alleged that there is another investigation being carried out that prompted his resignation. His departure date has yet to be confirmed.
This would no doubt have been a major blow to the organisation, but hot on the heels of his resignation came that of yet another Director. That of the Events and Strategy Director, the person who was the driving force behind not only the Hockey Revolution, but also the Pro-League. It therefore seems a strange time to chose to leave, just as the event that you have dedicated four years to is about to come to fruition.
What is a concern for those on the outside is that four Directors have resigned or been made redundant in the past six months. Now two CEO’s will have come and gone in a year. Understandably Hockey fans around the globe are asking what is going on? Where does this leave the game? Will the Pro League still launch in January 2018? Who will fill these positions?
One thing that is abundantly clear is the FIH Communications department are going to be working hard over Christmas and into the New year to put out fires, and restore confidence in sponsors, fans, TV stations, players and coaches.
It is also important that a new CEO is appointed as promptly as possible and that due diligence is carried out on their suitability for the role. Some close to the game feel that the time is right to move outside of Hockey to find the new leader, so that they come with no game or association related baggage. With the Pro-League being such a key component to the game moving forward, maybe the next CEO needs to come to the role with the experience of running a top flight competition, rather than just administering a sport. A mix of both would of course be ideal.
On the turf 2017 has been a good year for the game, but off it, it has been an annus horriblis. Let us hope that 2018 is a year full of prosperity for the game as a whole and that the Pro-League does prove to be the game-changer at the start of 2019, and in a year’s time everyone is focussed solely on that.